Adolescent and adult responsiveness to the incentive value of cocaine reward in mice: Role of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) gene

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Abstract

A major concern in adolescent psychostimulant abuse is the long-term consequence of this practice, because early drug exposure may cause long-term adaptations, which render the organism more susceptible to drug abuse later in life. The incentive value of drug and natural reward in rodents is commonly assessed by the conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm, which involves Pavlovian learning. The aims of the present study were to investigate: a) the acquisition, expression, maintenance and reinstatement of cocaine CPP from periadolescence (PD24–45) through adulthood (PD70); b) potential sexual dimorphism in adolescence and adulthood in response to cocaine-induced CPP; and c) the role of the neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) gene in long-term neural plasticity underlying responsiveness to cocaine and cocaine-associated cues. Adolescent wild type (WT) mice acquired significant cocaine (20 mg/kg) CPP that was maintained from PD24 through PD43. Upon extinction, CPP was reinstated in adulthood (PD70) following a priming injection of cocaine (5 mg/kg). In contrast, cocaine CPP acquired between PD26 and PD31 in adolescent nNOS knockout (KO) mice, was neither maintained nor reinstated by cocaine. There was no sexual dimorphism in adolescent WT and KO mice. Genotype differences and sexual dimorphism were observed in adult mice. Cocaine CPP in adult WT males (PD89–94) was maintained for 4 weeks post training, and subsequently reinstated by cocaine priming; the magnitude of CPP in adult WT males was lower than in female counterparts. CPP in adult KO males (PD88–93) was neither maintained nor reinstated by cocaine priming; in contrast, CPP in adult KO females was not significantly different from adult WT females. Results suggest that the nNOS gene is essential during adolescence of both sexes for the development of long-term neural plasticity underlying responsiveness to the incentive value of cocaine reward. Sexual dimorphism in response to cocaine CPP emerges in adulthood; nNOS contribution to long-term plasticity is therefore sexually dimorphic and age-dependent in female but not in male subjects.

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